Re: [asa] Where does TE differ from NOMA? (was: Re: Schools and NOMA)

From: Cameron Wybrow <>
Date: Fri Nov 06 2009 - 00:24:26 EST

The post of mine to which Keith responded was accidentally sent only to him,
rather than to the list. Here it is:



I see better now what is on your mind. And I see to some extent why
"intelligent design" calls up different associations for you than it does
for me. But I cannot easily respond to your concerns about William Dembski
or Phil Johnson. I have never met either man, and except for one brief
article, have never read anything by Phil Johnson. The works I have read by
Dembski are his theoretical works, not his writings directed at specifically
Christian audiences, so perhaps I only have part of the picture of his
overall thought.

I would not have written the paragraph which you quoted from the writings of
Dembski. The way it is worded, it sounds as if the decision to call
intelligent design "science" is totally tactical, a sort of public relations
move. But I have never understood ID in that way. I have always thought
that Behe (certainly) and also Dembski (in his theoretical books, anyway)
and Meyer and all the others believe that there really is evidence in nature
for the activity of a designer, and that science, by revealing the
tightly-integrated complexity found in nature, provides the empirical basis
for a legitimate design inference. If they believe this, then tactical
considerations ought to be irrelevant.

Regarding Phil Johnson's comment about faith being only "in the mind", I
won't try to justify the exact phrase that he used, but perhaps what he was
driving at was the difference between a belief in God which is based wholly
on faith, and a belief in God which is based in part on reason. On this
question, my view is: why does it have to be either/or? Why does the
existence of God have to be established either solely by
scientific/philosophical arguments or solely through faith? Why can't God
speak through both nature and revelation? I don't see why God couldn't have
chosen to make an inference to his existence, knowledge, power etc.
available through nature, but reserved knowledge of his deepest intentions
for transmission through revelation. In that sense, God is accessible
through both reason and revelation, but only a part of God is accessible
through reason. But that part which is accessible through reason makes it
possible for members of different religions to talk to one another, and for
the religious to talk to open-minded agnostics. It is therefore not to be
scorned. Yet many TEs seem to scorn it.

To move to another of your points: I certainly agree with you that the
conclusions of modern science are constrained and without authority in the
sphere of religion and morals and so on. But I do not see intelligent
design as an attempt to move science into the areas of morality and
religion. ID theorists are quite happy to see science "constrained" to the
study of nature, and separated from the study of morality or politics or of
the hidden purposes of God. (There isn't much in Stephen Meyer's latest
book, for example, about morality or politics or theology.) However, they
don't think that all of the self-imposed constraints of modern science are
good ones. In particular, they don't think that the ban on teleological
explanation is a wise one. They believe that thinking in terms of design is
necessary to understand, not the nature of God, but the nature of nature

Modern science has defined itself more narrowly than pre-modern science.
Modern science adopts a purely instrumental view of reason. Someone who
sees nature exclusively through instrumental reason is not going to see
design, but only a maze of interlocking efficient causes. But if we take
"science" in the original sense of "systematic or orderly knowledge", then
one could have a science of nature which speaks of design. You spoke at the
end of your note of improving "our understanding of the natural world"; but
what many people on this list do not seem to see is that modern science
yields an inherently incomplete understanding. It is incomplete not because
of any gaps in our knowledge of how nature works (in some areas, we have
virtually complete knowledge, as far as prediction and control are
concerned), but because it cannot say anything about design, which is (I and
others would argue) as much a real part of the natural world as mass,
velocity, charge, etc. are. Our modern natural science does not really
describe nature; it describes an abstraction from nature devised by the
narrow tools of instrumental reason. It is like describing a human being as
a network of neurons, or a collection of cells, or a body of a certain mass
and height. All of these descriptions are true of human beings, but they
falsify human nature by leaving out the most important aspects of human
nature, the things that modern science willfully chooses not to address.
Similarly, non-teleological descriptions of organic nature leave out the
most important aspect of organic nature, and to that extent give a false
picture of nature. This criticism is not based on any confusion between
scientific questions and questions of "values" or "morals" or "religion" or
"theology". Nor does this criticism have anything to do with "miracles" or
"gaps" or "supernaturalism". It has to do with giving an adequate rational
account of the phenomena, which is the purpose of any science, including
natural science.

The non-teleological abstraction of modern science comes, I believe, from
the great success of non-teleological explanations in chemistry and physics.
It seemed like a good idea to many to apply the attitude and assumptions of
chemistry and physics to organic nature, i.e., to adopt a "one size fits
all" scientific epistemology. I don't think it is obvious that biological
phenomena can be explained entirely in terms of the sorts of explanations
that are adequate in physics and chemistry. And I think that method in
biology should be built around the subject-matter, not the other way around.
Thus, whatever the flaws of ID writers may be, and however often they get
sidetracked by religious and culture-war concerns, I think they are onto
something. How can we truly "understand" organic nature without grasping
that, on some level, it is designed?


  ----- Original Message -----
  From: Keith Miller
  Sent: Wednesday, November 04, 2009 5:33 PM
  Subject: Re: [asa] Where does TE differ from NOMA? (was: Re: Schools and

  Cameron asked:

    I don't know what you mean by 'seeking to discover God's action from
within science'. The word "action" is ambiguous in this context. ...

  I mean seeking evidence of God's purposeful creative activity through the
scientific observation of the natural world. Not by theological, or
philosophical reflection on our observations of the natural world -- but
objectively discernable in those observations. In other words, appeal to
God can be part of a purely scientific explanation of observed phenomena.

    I don't think any of the leading ID proponents demand that God's design
[a better word than "action"] *must* be discernible. They start from the
premise that God's design *may* be discernible, which is a different thing.

  My experience is that they are very ambiguous on this -- very different
perceptions are given in different contexts. During the science standards
debates here in Kansas a few years ago, the ID proponents explicitly
identified a science that excluded reference to divine action as
'atheistic," and any Christian who held such a position as "confused" or
self-deluded. Science as described by MN was viewed as in irreconcilable
opposition to belief in a creator God.

  This issue has been discussed in this forum before. I deal with the
practical on-the-ground activism encouraged and led by ID proponents. This
activism typically looks very little like the ID that you defend on this
forum, and sees science that does not include direct appeal to God as
atheistic and an enemy of faith. And the ID "leaders" do nothing to
undermine this activism or to correct it -- in fact they fuel it. And I
have told some of them this face-to-face.

    Your comment, "they elevate the power and role of scientific argument
over that of theology", is interpretive, not descriptive. I do not agree
with the interpretation, as far as I understand it, but I am not sure that I
understand it.

  My point is the strong desire to see science validate the existence of God
shows that science is being held as a very high authority. People
desperately WANT science to confirm the existence of God. Why? Because,
science is seen as a more sure path to truth. Phil Johnson ridiculed
Christians whose faith was only "in the mind." He wrote that if God's
guiding action is not scientifically testable then "The theism is in the
mind (or faith) of the believer. For this reason, I have written that
theistic evolution can more accurately be described as theistic naturalism."

  Similarly, Dembski wrote:
  "It bears repeating: the only universally valid form of knowledge within
our culture is science. Within late-twentieth-century Western society
neither religion, nor philosophy, nor literature, nor music nor art makes
any such cognitive claim. Religion in particular is seen as making no
universal claims that are obligatory across of board. The contrast with
science is stark. ..... It is therefore clear why relegating intelligent
design to any realm other than science (e.g. religion) ensures that
naturalistic evolution will remain the only intellectually respectable
option for the explanation of life."

   This sounds to me as though Dembski has a really strong case of science
envy. To me his approach is precisely opposite of what is needed. We
should be strongly arguing that science does not have such authority --
that its conclusions are highly constrained and limited. All our most
important questions find NO answers there. The above quote also illustrates
why the great majority of ID proponents so steadfastly refuse to talk about
theology -- They want to be seen as arguing within science because it, not
theology, has power.

    On your second paragraph, I agree with you that scientists bring their
personal beliefs, including religious beliefs, to their science. I agree
with you that such beliefs can inspire and motivate. ID people would agree.
I also would add that a strong argument can be made for the historical
contribution of Christian theology to the rise of modern science, an
argument which Ted Davis and many TEs have affirmed, and which ID people
affirm equally strongly. There are two statements, however, which to me
require some specific examples: (1) "Their worldviews ... often provide
the basis for specific theoretical concepts"; (2) "[S]everal of [Gould's]
own paleontological views were strongly influenced by his philosophical and
political views."

  I am sure that the historians among us can give their own examples.
Within my field of paleontology, strong cultural and political views of
progress were very influential in the developing ideas of the history of
life and evolution. Cuvier was influenced by the political context of
revolutionary France in emphasizing the role of catastrophic "revolutions"
in the history of life.

  Gould strongly held to a view of history that was was contingent and
revolutionary. He therefore emphasized evolutionary patterns that were
disjunct rather than gradualistic ("punctuated equillibrium") and contingent
rather than directional (see his book "Wonderful Life"). Although
expressions of his political and social views, his scientific work resulted
in significant new contributions to the science.

  The recent debate over the cause of the end Cretaceous extinction, also
has philosophical roots. The original proposal of an asteroid impact was
met with considerable opposition because by those who strongly held to
gradualistic views of earth history. It was viewed as a return to the
catastrophism of the early 1800's.

  Science takes place in a cultural, political and religious context.
Scientific ideas can spring from any of these sources. Where an idea comes
from is irrelevant to whether or not it may end up making an important
contribution to our understanding of the natural world.


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Received on Fri Nov 6 00:25:39 2009

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